Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 5:03 PM GMT on December 19, 2012
Winter Storm Draco is powering up over the Upper Midwest, and is poised to bring a resounding end to the record-length snowless streaks a number of U.S. cities have notched this year. Blizzard warnings are posted over portions of Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and snowfall amounts of up to a foot are expected in some of the affected regions. While the heavy snow will create dangerous travel conditions, the .5" - 1.5" of melted water equivalent from the the storm will provide welcome moisture for drought-parched areas of the Midwest. Though much of the moisture will stay locked up as snow for the rest of the year, runoff from the storm may help keep Lake Michigan and Huron from setting an all-time record low for the month of December, and may also keep the Mississippi River at St. Louis above the -5' stage though the end of December. If the river falls below -5', barge traffic on the Mississippi may be forced to halt, costing billions of dollars. The Army Corps of Engineers is blasting away rocks on the river bottom south of St. Louis and releasing water from Carlyle Lake in Southern Illinois this week, in order to keep the Mississippi River high enough to allow barge traffic to negotiate the near-record low water levels. Several gauges on the Mississippi have set all-time record lows this year: the New Madrid, Missouri gauge on August 30, 2012 and the Tiptonville, Tennessee gauge on September 2. Records at the Tiptonville gauge go back to at least 1879.
Figure 1. Predicted precipitation totals fopr the 3-day period ending on December 22. Approximately 0.5 - 1.5" of melted water equivalent from Winter Storm Draco is expected over much of the drought-stricken Midwest. Image credit: NOAA/HPC.
Figure 2. Average water levels on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are near their lowest December levels ever recorded, preliminary data from NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory indicate.
Record snowless streaks coming to end because of Winter Storm Draco
The U.S. has had its warmest and 12th driest year on record, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. It should be no surprise, then, that a number of major cities have set records for their longest period without snow. Most of these streaks have come to and end (or will do so in the next day or two) because of Winter Storm Draco:
MIlwaukee, Wisconsin's record streak without measurable snow ended December 18 with 0.5" of snow; the streak was 288 consecutive days, bookended by measurable snowfall on March 5 and Dec. 18. Milwaukee is likely to get an additional 4 - 6" of snow from Draco.
Omaha, Nebraska's record streak without measurable snow ended December 16 with 0.6" of snow; the streak was 295 consecutive days, bookended by measurable snowfall on Feb. 24 and Dec. 16. Omaha is likely to get 6 - 9" of total snow before the current storm winds down. Record latest first snow of the season: December 26, 1888.
Chicago, Illinois' new record snowless streak continues at 289 consecutive days as of Tuesday. The last measurable snow there was March 4. Previous record: 280 consecutive days between the measurable snowfalls of March 1, 1994 and December 5, 1994. Chicago has also broken its record for latest snowfall in the season, previously set on December 16, 1965. These streaks will likely end on Thursday, when 1 - 4" of snow are expected.
Rockford, Illinois' new record snowless streak continues at 289 consecutive days as of Tuesday, but this streak will likely end on Thursday, when 3 - 6" of snow are expected. The last measurable snow in Rockford was March 4. Previous record: 286 consecutive days between the measurable snowfalls of March 3, 1922 and December 13, 1922. Record latest first snow of the season: January 7, 1940.
Lincoln, Nebraska's new record snowless streak continues at 308 consecutive days as of Tuesday. This streak will likely end Wednesday or Thursday, as 6 -8" of snow are expected. The last measurable snow there was Feb. 13. Previous record: 295 consecutive days between the measurable snowfalls of Feb. 6 and Nov. 28, 2004. Record latest first snow of the season: December 31, 2006.
Syracuse, NY is often the snowiest major city in the contiguous U.S. This year, Syracuse has not yet had a 1" snowfall--the second latest such streak. The 3.0" that has fallen is over 28" below what Syracuse usually gets by this time of the season. The latest in the season that the first 1" snow has come to Syracuse occurred on December 22, 1998 (the previous warmest year on record in the U.S.) With the forecast calling for lake effect snows on the 22nd, Syracuse may just miss setting its mark for latest 1" snowfall of the season.
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